Chuck Palahniuk’s novels are always different than the run of the mill. Pygmy, however, is even more outlandish than his usual stories.
There are no fight clubs or sex addicts. There are no reincarnations or porn stars. There are no deadly lullabies or plane crashes.
Instead, Pygmy is told from the first person perspective of a 13-year-old terrorist disguised as an exchange student. In an undisclosed American Midwestern city, Pygmy and his fellow terrorists, also disguised as exchange students, work on a top priority mission called Operation Havoc.
Since Pygmy’s first language isn’t English, the grammar and syntax are unusual. It takes awhile to get used to style. Someone else described it as “caveman language.” The grammar might be that, but part of the irony is that Pygmy has a more extensive vocabulary than any Americans he meets. I’m sure that Pygmy’s voice was even more difficult to write than it is to read, but Palahniuk does a good job of keeping the language consistent and deliberate.
The goal of Operation Havoc is kept secret until the very end. Most of the book concentrates on Pygmy’s perception of Americans. Wal-Mart is a shopping mall. The employee greeting people at the door is a slave. The priest is the devil.
Other things, such as America’s education program, which Pygmy is enrolled in is openly criticized as a waste of time because, he claims, the studies are so easy an infant knows them. Before entering America he’s already memorized the periodic chart and deadly martial arts. During a spelling bee, only the exchange students are left and the American students become bored. The words become so difficult that the teachers cannot correctly pronounce or define them.
Pygmy’s host family is a stereotypical American family. There’s the obese father, which Pygmy considers cow-like. The mother is so scrawny that Pygmy thinks she resembles a chicken. There’s the fat bully of a brother who looks like a pig. And, there’s the smart, sexy sister with cat eyes. Palahniuk revisits old stereotypes but takes them a step further than most authors.
Flashbacks from Pygmy’s childhood and personal growth during the course of the narrative help flesh out his character and make him the most complete character in the novel. As terrorists are usually stereotyped and Americans fleshed out, this nicely adds to the irony of the novel.
Pygmy is not politically correct. It’s not Palahniuk’s most engaging novel. It’s definitely not for the squeamish or easily offended. But, it is also the most innovative book about terrorism and a clever satire about the country we call home.
I can hardly wait to see what Palahniuk has in store for his next novel.